Tuesday, July 12, 2016

#United



Red – Love and Security
Orange – Creativity and Happiness
Yellow – Life and Wisdom
Green – Growth and Health
Blue – Security and Compassion
Purple – Stability and Spirituality

     #OrlandoUnited and #OrlandoStrong, it’s everywhere I go: Restaurants, billboards, storefronts, and murals. My city whispers it like a sigh, on every street corner rainbows fill me with a liquid pouring of love. On this day, the one-month anniversary of the Pulse shootings, I remember sitting in my living room, watching the horrors that had occurred only a few hours before in my city beautiful. When the Mayor announced the death toll had changed to fifty, the pressure in my chest cracked, and without warning my pain flooded my cheeks. No, I didn’t know any of the deceased, but I cried nonetheless. As a mother, a daughter, a sister, and a friend the thought of losing someone I loved that way broke me.

     As the names slowly began making their way to the public, I cried again. They were my people. We shared the same tongue, the same beliefs, culture, and island. I read once that a rainbow represents new beginnings. That they bring with them the promise of present difficulties passing. But on that morning, all the colors of the rainbow left me, leaving behind a dark gray cloud of fear and doubt.

     That Friday I had a trip. It felt too soon. My reservations for leaving covered a multitude of worries. How could I leave so soon after everything that happened? How would the outside world receive me? What if something worse happened while I was gone? After all, my city seemed to have been plagued with a multitude of unfortunate events. The questions flowed one after another, but I had no choice. Tickets had already been purchased, hotel rooms paid for, and a graduating class waiting for me.

     We arrived at our first destination Manchester, New Hampshire, close to lunchtime. I Googled places to eat, and one name stood out to me. I can’t say why I was drawn to the restaurant, only that I knew that’s where I wanted to go. It took some cajoling, but eventually I convinced my husband, and we made our way to the quaint little restaurant in downtown. I liked it instantly. We were led to a table where the server welcomed us and asked where we were from. I said Florida, afraid (or maybe even ashamed) to name the city. But my fearless husband proudly said, Orlando.

     “My manager’s from Orlando,” the server said. “I’ll send her over.”

     I was both intrigued and anxious. On the one had, I was curious to meet someone from home, we were after all thirteen hundred miles away. On the other hand, I wondered what she’d think of us abandoning our city. I worried about her thoughts on everything that had happened. Would she say how happy she was to be far away from the ongoing stream of horrors? Instead, the unexpected happened.



     Monica had grown up in Orlando, lived there for decades before settling in Manchester. She felt disconnected from the city, her heart was heavy, and she hated that she was so far from home during such tragic times. She told me about a poem she’d been inspired to write that had gone viral. A poem I’d read myself before the trip. I didn’t tell her I was a writer too. It was her moment. We talked reminisced on old landmarks. To Monica, we were the connecting thread to a place she’d been feeling separated from. To us, she was a reminder of how united Orlando truly was. She invited us to a light vigil they were having that night, in honor of the victims, but we had another destination to be at that evening.

     We left the restaurant and made our way up to the New Hampshire mountains, where over and over again I was told “I’m sorry to hear what happened”, and “we’re praying for your city.” I had conversations with people who didn’t know Orlando’s LGBT community was so big, or that so many Hispanics lived in the area. I was suddenly the informant to a city most people only associated with a walking, talking, mouse. I saw my first full and double rainbow that afternoon. A reminder to be true to myself, and a sign of our serendipitous encounter.


 
     After three days in the mountains, we drove to New York City. Rainbow flags were everywhere. And while I realize this was probably a result of it being pride month, to me, those flags took on a different meaning. The next day, we went to Washington Square Garden. I found a small tribute to the victims of the Pulse shooting. My heart swelled again. I was no longer afraid, or ashamed, to say where I was from. Over and over again the colored flags welcomed me, signs smiled at me, and people’s words filled my heart. I saw pedestrians wearing the #OrlandoUnited shirts that hadn’t even been ready for sale when I’d left the city. By the time I got back on a plane headed home, what I had realized was that we are not #OrlandoUnited, we are a #NationUnited.


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